Arise! Awake! And Stop Not Till the Goal is Reached!

Today Indian-Americans are an envied group in the United States. They represent what the American mainstream desires in immigrants – a hardworking, law-abiding community, a community focused on education, family values, assimilation and one that articulates its views in discussions and debates – in short, a group that succeeds in the right way.

But there is one area where Indian-Americans are sorely absent – participation in the political and civic process. Indian-Americans speak up only occasionally even on issues that are of deep concern to them; they rarely call or write to their Congressional Representative. In my experience, Indian-Americans tend to express their discontent in private circles, over dinners, often on Saturday evenings with their close friends. The common expression at these dinners is “someone should do something”. Unfortunately, that someone is most often, if not always, supposed to be someone else.

There are valid socio-historical reasons for this reticence. A vast majority of Indian-Americans came to the U.S. from middle class backgrounds. They were taught from childhood to focus on education and not get embroiled in activities that might distract them away from a good education and career.

As immigrants, success in the U.S. did not come easy for Indian-Americans. Each profession found itself stereotyped at different times in the journey. For example, in the 1980s, American managers routinely stereotyped Indian technology professionals as “good techies” but “not good managers.” This was not deemed to be a racist statement at the time but a rational, reasonable one. Even today, physicians educated in India have to suffer grossly stereotyped statements about the quality of their medical education and clinical experience in India.

Despite all of these obstacles, Indian-Americans have achieved enviable success in America. In this quest, the Indian attributes of keeping one’s head down and focusing on one’s education, career and family paid off.

But, now it is time to get on to the next stage in being an important part of the American society. It is time to bring issues that are near and dear to the hearts of Indian-Americans into the American mainstream. These could be issues of culture, education, employment, history or religion. We Indian-Americans owe it to ourselves and to our next generation to be active and vocal. If we learn to be both, we will obtain a level of political success that we only dream of today. The 2010 mod terms elections were only a preview of what one can expect when the Indian-American community becomes truly political active.

My column today has been triggered by two recent events and the media attention they received. The first shows the weakness of the Indian-American community and the second shows a new spirit among Indian-Americans.

•    Mumbai suffered a vicious, horrific attack by Pakistani terrorists in November 2008. This week, according to media reports, a lawsuit was filed in Brooklyn Federal Court by of relatives of four Jewish victims slain in that attack and one survivor. The suit contends Pakistan’s shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence provided support to the gunmen who killed 166 and wounded more than 300 people. The government of Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba are also named as defendants in the suit according to media articles. The plaintiffs are represented by Lawyer James Kreindler, whose law firm successfully sued Libya on behalf of the 259 passengers who died in the attack on Pan Am Flight 103 and the 11 people killed on the ground.

To me, this illustrates the difference between an awake, active Jewish community that lost 4 members in the Mumbai attack and a relatively asleep, inactive Indian community that lost approx 160 people.

•    This past Sunday, the second most read article on the New York Times website was Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul. This article is about the Campaign “Take Back Yoga” by the Hindu American Foundation. As the article states, the Campaign “suggests only that people become more aware of yoga’s debt to the faith’s ancient traditions”. This campaign has generated media articles including a column on the On Faith blog of the Washington Post and an article about the philosophy underlying Yoga titled Bin Ladenism in Religion & The Practice of Yoga.

My objective here is not to discuss the merits or demerits of the campaign but to point out one of the first attempts by a group of Indian-Americans to create in the American mainstream a debate, to an awareness of a topic near and dear to their hearts. I hope we look back at this campaign as the first among many such campaigns by Indian-Americans that impact the American mainstream.

The title of the article is the exhortation by Swami Vivek-Anand to all Indians to Arise and Awake. It is up to each Indian-American to decide what goal he or she wants to reach. But the message, a variation of the ancient exhortation from Kathopanisad, applies to each and every Indian-American.

I believe the country wants the Indian-American community to Arise, Awaken and Participate actively and vocally in the American political and civic mainstream. I sincerely hope it begins to do so.

An Untold Story of US-India Relations

My belief and experience is that the U.S. and India have a great deal in common, both as people and as nations. Some of these commonalities are rather obvious such as the democracies in the two countries, and the multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious societies. People in both nations cherish their diversity. Both nations have taken practical steps to build institutional safeguards to protect the freedoms of minorities. They are welcoming of immigrants such that the U.S. is even recognized as the land of immigrants. Maybe very few people know though that India has been for centuries the land of immigrants.

As the world gets more complex, both nations are discovering that they have a similar view towards major geo-strategic issues facing the world. Both view China as their major economic partner and a potential adversary. India and the U.S are interested in a stable Afghanistan with strong institutions even if not fully democratic one. Both nations have tremendous stake in protecting maritime links and freedom of navigation. Both are victims of Islamic terrorism and face the prospects of constant terrorist attacks.

These factors make India and the U.S. natural allies in today’s world. There is therefore also a bipartisan support for President Obama’s initiatives for a broader India-U.S. interaction and partnership.

However, one area has escaped attention, and could very well be the most relevant area of U.S.-India congruence. It is a shared view of economic and monetary policy. The United States is an open economy, an economy that has invited companies from other countries to export their goods and services to America. This posture of the United States has benefited the U.S. consumer by bringing goods to them at a lower price, and it has benefited the exporting countries by increasing their prosperity. Threatened by neo-mercantile countries, America has begun to feel that it is the only country with such an open-minded posture.

At this time, it is important to note that India shares this American vision. India is increasingly open to trade and to foreign companies exporting their goods and services to India. A quick visit to India confirms this. American and European companies are increasing their presence in India and, unlike in China, these companies are making money.

Both the U.S and India are principally domestic consumption economies. This may not be obvious to many. India is now anchored in people’s minds as a technology outsourcing economy and the global success of U.S. brands makes America appear intent on dominating the world. But under this imagery lies the reality of domestic consumption as the principal driver of American and Indian economies. Both countries have physically large and deep markets with the capacity to absorb foreign goods and foreign capital. Perhaps because of this, both the U.S. and India have large current account deficits and trade deficits. These two countries are also dependent on foreign capital to sustain their growth.

This makes the U.S.-India pair relatively unique in the G-20. China, Germany, Japan and Brazil are export dynamos. Most of the Asian countries are semi-mercantile exporting economies. They depend on weak currencies to make their products less expensive. They have gathered a huge hoard of foreign exchange reserves in the past 10 years. These forex reserves are now approaching $6 trillion and have grown ten-fold in the past 10 years. The principal beneficiary is, of course, China that has accumulated about $2.5 trillion in reserves, almost 50% of the total growth in the past decade.

These neo-mercantile countries are engaged in exporting their capital to domestic consumption countries like America and India in addition to their products. They need domestic consumption countries to increase spending and consumption, increase imports and maintain strong currency levels.

This is where the global battle lines are being drawn today. The U.S. and India find themselves on the same side & as partners in this battle. This is why Prime Minister Singh seconded President Obama’s strong partnership mantra and said, “A strong, robust, fast-growing United States is in the interests of the world.”

Obama’s Visit and the Nuclear Conundrum

By Rajiv Nayan
Indian Review of Global Affairs

The 2010 American presidential visit to India was arguably an economy-dominant event. Admittedly, Pakistan and the endorsement of the Indian candidature for permanent membership of United Nations (UN) Security Council dominated media discussions. Both issues constituted a big thriller before and during President’s address to the Indian Parliament. The Strategic Trade management or export controls issue may fall in the grey area. It has both geo-strategic and geo-political connotations.

Other than strategic trade management and the nuclear liability bill, the writings and discussions during the visit did not pay much attention to other nuclear or non-proliferation issues. This was highly unusual, if we make comparisons with previous U.S. Presidential visits especially in recent decades. The current Indian diplomacy needs to be complimented for managing to draw attention away from the contentious non-proliferation or nuclear issues before and almost throughout the visit.

One may also attribute it to a sense of purposelessness of the U.S. non-proliferation community. Surprisingly, the U.S. non-proliferation community and various think tanks working on the subject did not issue any demand list on non-proliferation to make the visit contentious and the relationship tense. True, we heard some occasional noises on the nuclear liability bill and export controls reforms by India.

The Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit had a reasonable section devoted to nuclear and non-proliferation matters. These issues indicate the kind of relationship India is developing with the US. The relationship between the two countries is also called strategic, though the plethora of joint statements on strategic partnerships is increasingly complicating the phrase. The joint statement on nuclear and non-proliferation issues would point to the struggle the negotiators of both countries may have waged to make it a balanced document.

In the joint statement, there are some pleasant issues, but these are hardly inspiring for the relationship. The joint statement has talked about “common ideals, complementary strengths and a shared commitment to a world without nuclear weapons.” Indian diplomacy may be congratulated for making the U.S. talk about nuclear disarmament. It seems it was for the first time that the U.S. administration shared nuclear disarmament ideals in an India-US bilateral document.

Interestingly, the talk of complementary strengths could also be a new experiment for the bilateral agenda. India may delight its Non-Aligned Movement and nuclear disarmament constituency and take the leadership on the issue of nuclear disarmament. This constituency was apparently unhappy with India because of the July 18, 2005 joint statement and subsequent developments. This international force felt that India, the friend and the leader of nuclear disarmament, distanced itself from its long cherished ideal and commitment. The U.S. may have addressed that section of the Western world which is restless about nuclear disarmament.

India or at least a strong section of the Indian strategic community always has had a nuclear disarmament dream. It dreamt when India won its freedom, kept dreaming during the Cold War and even after it, and more importantly, did not stop dreaming in nuclear India. Needless to say, this dream was shattered. It seems the joint statement intends to do something to synthesize a common dream. Chasing American nuclear disarmament dreams may be soothing, but like any dream would end without producing any result.

President Obama’s promised the moon during his elections. A campaign pamphlet of the Democratic Party informed that “Obama and Biden will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it. But they will take several steps down the long road toward eliminating nuclear weapons.” Obama’s famous Prague speech made a fleeting landing. Obama told the Prague audience, “I’m not naïve. This goal will not be reached quickly – perhaps not in my lifetime.” Afterwards, the American nuclear disarmament dream came to an end. Several disarmament enthusiasts all over the world, including Indians, were utterly disappointed. Global disarmament initiatives were left for brave hearts and lofty idealists.

Like the Prague speech, the India-US joint statement awakens us to the reality. In the same line in which a world without nuclear weapons has been mentioned, it talks of global efforts for non-proliferation before universal and non-discriminatory global nuclear disarmament in the 21st century. It seems the U.S. priority took over. The struggle continued in the next line. Here it seems Indian diplomacy toiled to incorporate mention of “…the need for a meaningful dialogue among all states possessing nuclear weapons to build trust and confidence….”

At the press conference, the Prime Minister referred to India and the U.S. as two nuclear weapon countries. This aroused expectations that advancement towards recognition of India’s nuclear weapon status would be made, and the joint statement would use a new formulation recording India’s nuclear weapon status. The 2005 joint statement had alluded to “other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology.” Unfortunately, the joint statement, possibly because of American reluctance, did not refer to India and the U.S. as two nuclear weapons countries. However, for getting the phrase (all states possessing nuclear weapons) used in the joint statement, we must give credit to Indian diplomacy. India may have to consolidate upon this and move forward towards gaining recognition as a nuclear weapons state. Needless to add, the best option would be joining the NPT as a nuclear weapon country.

The other half of the same line talks about “reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in international affairs and security doctrines.” This is quite significant. India has a ‘no first use policy’ in its nuclear doctrine. In the run up to the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, many countries as well as inter-governmental and non-governmental groupings campaigned for no-first use. An idea of a no-first use treaty was also floated. However, nothing came of it.

The Indian government and its diplomacy must build on this U.S. commitment, and mobilize American think tanks working on nuclear issues. It could be the first practical step towards reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in the nuclear doctrines of all nuclear weapon countries – declared and undeclared. Other components may be taken up later.

India seems to prefer countering nuclear terrorism with the U.S. framework. The joint statement mentioned the Nuclear Security Summit and the documents produced at the summit. The U.S. has a somewhat different approach towards Pakistan on terrorism in general and nuclear terrorism in particular. Through the summit, it has tried to project Pakistan as a responsible actor. Moreover, the U.S. deals with Pakistan unilaterally and hardly shares information with other countries.

The US’ ambivalent approach towards Pakistan is reflected in the joint statement on illicit nuclear trafficking. This is a major security issue not only for India but also for the US. Pakistan and AQ Khan do not figure in the joint statement. America’s own allies complain about Washington not sharing information about the proliferation network. India should insist on highlighting Pakistan’s involvement. Non-governmental organizations may underscore the role of Pakistani diplomacy in managing the fallout of its nuclear proliferation network. Help from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Interpol and the nuclear security summit framework has been mentioned. The Indian government should make maximum use of these institutions.

The U.S. government and a section of its policy making community saw the Indian civil nuclear liability bill quite negatively. They demanded changes in the provision which made suppliers responsible for supplying defective items that may cause an accident. If an Indian operator finds that the accident has been caused due to defective equipment supplied by a supplier, it has the right to ask for compensation from the supplier under the passed bill.

The joint statement seems to have tried to address American uneasiness. It has secured a level playing field for American companies. U.S. sceptics would do well to remember that there are many Indian suppliers for the Indian nuclear industry. The bill nowhere discriminates between an Indian private supplier and a foreign supplier. It seems the government of India has taken an extra step on the Convention on Supplementary Compensation which has been recorded in the joint statement.

There are other significant nuclear issues in the joint statement. First is the information about the Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation in the Indian Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership. During his recent visit to Tokyo, the Indian Prime Minister agreed to work with Japan for development of this Global Centre. The future challenge for Indian diplomacy would be to make the Centre an important hub of nuclear energy and nuclear security activities. It could do well by becoming more transparent.

The joint statement has also talked about Iran. The formulation on Iran is quite positive. Obama began his Presidency and indeed conducted his election campaign by promising to use the diplomatic framework to manage the Iranian nuclear issue. In the last few months, he and his administration seem to have moved away from the diplomatic approach to confrontational and worse, military approach. In the joint statement, the emphasis on diplomacy to deal with the Iranian puzzle has been made. At the same time, the statement has urged Iran “to take constructive and immediate steps to meet its obligations to the IAEA and the UN [United Nations] Security Council.” Quite interestingly, any reference to its treaty obligations is missing. It seems the allusion to IAEA and UN Security Council indirectly addresses the issue.

Quite terribly, some superfluous issues haunted the joint statement. For example, the unnecessary mention of the Indian commitment to unilateral and voluntary moratorium and the American commitment to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty could have been avoided. It is well known that the changed U.S. Congress and the American security establishment would not allow the ratification of the treaty.

In sum, the visit witnessed several positive developments on the nuclear front. The joint statement on nuclear issues reflects the joint endeavour of the two countries to find a new common ground. Yet, the final outcome reflects the struggle of the traditional contending approaches of the two countries. The synthesis of the two approaches tries to paper over old differences, but is becoming manifest at most of the places in the joint statement. In the future, these wrinkles need to go.

(The article originally appeared at USINPAC and IRGA are content partners.)

When Obama won over the Indian Parliament

As expected, Obama’s maiden visit to India this weekend has been a success. President Obama struck all the right notes, and the First Lady charmed India as she danced with children. The highlight of the visit was Obama’s address to the joint session of the Indian Parliament on Monday where he endorsed India’s permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, and took a tough stance on Pakistan and said that terrorist safe-havens within its borders were unacceptable.

Even before the President arrived in India, there was speculation about whether he would call out Pakistan for harboring terrorists within its borders, terrorists that have been shown to carry out attacks on India. During the first two days of his trips, Obama was hesitant and the Indians seemed disappointed with his Pakistan attitude. India’s skepticism about the Obama administration, in particular due to its constant appeasement of Pakistan and their “efforts” in fighting terrorists within their borders, was evident in the build up to the visit. However, Obama choose the right place to confirm his support for India’s concerns about Pakistani terrorism – the grand halls of the Indian democracy. It is no wonder then that Obama received one of the largest and longest applauses of the evening when he said,

And we will continue to insist to Pakistan’s leaders that terrorist safe-havens within their borders are unacceptable, and that the terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks be brought to justice. We must also recognize that all of us have an interest in both an Afghanistan and a Pakistan that is stable, prosperous and democratic—and none more so than India.”

But the home-run of the evening was his endorsement of India for the permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Indian leaders across party lines have demanded a permanent seat for India at the UNSC on the basis of India’s nuclear prowess, economic growth and regional eminence. The U.S. on its part has evaded the endorsement for an equally long time. Monday’s endorsement was open-ended, dependent upon overall reforms of the UNSC which might take a number of years to be implemented. But India can hope that the endorsement from the U.S. would help initiate reforms to the UNSC sooner. The support by John McCain brings hope that the support would become a permanent part of U.S. foreign policy.

Addressing the Parliament Obama said,

And as two global leaders, the United States and India can partner for global security—especially as India serves on the Security Council over the next two years.  Indeed, the just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate.  That is why I can say today—in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed U.N. Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.”

The announcement was at best a shrewd high impact low risk diplomatic gesture, an opportunity to surpass Bush’s Nuclear Deal moment and ensure reciprocal support from India on issues such as human rights in Myanmar or tougher sanctions on Iran. Obama’s support was followed by a call to India to take up more responsibility and reprimand for not speaking out against and condemning human right abuses. He said,

Faced with such gross violations of human rights, it is the responsibility of the international community—especially leaders like the United States and India—to condemn it.  If I can be frank, in international fora, India has often avoided these issues.  But speaking up for those who cannot do so for themselves is not interfering in the affairs of other countries.  It’s not violating the rights of sovereign nations.  It’s staying true to our democratic principles.”

So far there have not been disapproving voices in the media or the Indian polity about Obama preaching India how to conduct itself in the world. And it would be in Indian interests not to take offense. The U.S. has played its superpower role for a long time and with considerable success. There have been strategic miscalculations that caused pain to many innocents, but its intentions have been largely humane. Obama and Singh may have declared that the two countries would work as equal partner, but India has a lot to learn when it comes to playing superpower.

Obama’s address to the Indian Parliament was also unique in that it touched upon not only the usual suspects – Gandhi, great civilization, diversity, contributions to medicine and science, economic growth – but also talked about Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (a lower caste leader who rose to be the chief architect of the Indian Constitution), the Panchatantra (a collection of stories that reflect the moral framework of the Indian civilization), Swami Vivekananda (who preached equality of religions in Chicago) and increasing engagement with East Asia.

What was conspicuously missing though is a reference to China in relation to India. While the India-China rivalry might not be as evident to the world as the India-Pakistan rivalry, it exists and poses a serious concern to India’s aspirations. China is one of Pakistan’s closest allies and will soon begin construction of two new nuclear reactors in Pakistan among other things. The two countries have festering border issues in the North-East as well as the Jammu & Kashmir region where Pakistan has handed over a part of the territory to China. The Dalai Lama finds refuge in India, and Chinese influence is growing among India’s neighbors such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh etc. The economic competition between the two countries is well-known.

The missing reference to China is important because India featured prominently when Obama visited China last year. He had irked India by suggesting that China help India and Pakistan resolve their issues. However, while in India, Obama did not mention China even in reference to the nuclear reactor agreement between China and Pakistan which would only add to the nuclear capability of Pakistan and consequentially the instability in the region. The Pakistan and UNSC mentions seem to have sidelined the thoughts about China.

Overall, the Obama visit and his speech before the Indian Parliament was a step forward for U.S-India bilateral relations. President Obama also managed to quell apprehensions in India about his administration’s pro-India attitude. The discontent and fear in India due to the Democratic Party’s protectionist attitude in response to the economic recession, continuing appeasement of Pakistan (as evident in the new $2 billion aid package) and uncertainty about the estimation of India’s role in Afghanistan is sure to have been reduced by the Obamas’ charm offensive over the last weekend. India has become an important economic partner for the U.S., and the relationship is sure to grow stronger in days to come.

India may not be a U.S. ally, but it may become the best partner we have in Asia

Guest post by Manish Thakur

In terms of symbolism, the President has done a splendid job when it comes to India. His first state dinner was for the Indian Prime Minister. And now, his longest overseas trip to date is to India. So why then does India feel slighted? Simple: after the heady days of Clinton and Bush, the substance of the relationship has stalled. Early naievite by the Administration on Beijing’s good intentions left India (and much of Free Asia) feeling abandoned. More problematic is our our “alliance” with Pakistan, something that is bound to raise concerns in Delhi. Indians like to explain all the downsides of our working with Pakistan. The problem is not that we don’t already know this, but that we don’t have a choice but to placate Pakistan while our troops are still fighting a war in Afghanistan. As long as we are reliant on Pakistan, we will have to expect suspicions about our intentions in Delhi.

For its part, India is also a tough party to deal with. Its obsession with strategic autonomy makes it too difficult to fit into the usual U.S. “ally” relationship, even though that may be in its interests. Furthermore, there is still an anti-U.S. reflexiveness in part of the Indian establishment. The U.S. tore apart global rules to allow India to engage in nuclear trade with the world, and yet it looks like U.S. companies will lose out to French and Russian firms in the fierce race for nuclear trade. The same may happen in India’s choice of defense purchases, where Europe and Russia still are formidable competitors. None of this will engender warm feelings in Washington. India wants U.S. support for a permanent seat on the Security Council, but ignores the fact that it has voted with the U.S. only 30% of the time, hardly giving Washington confidence to support its bid.

Longer term, however, India’s rising economy, common democratic system of government and the general popularity of the U.S. in India will see the two countries through. Also, the threat from China and jihadi terrorism will pull them ever closer, even though quite what that means is still unclear. Even on Pakistan, the U.S. can improve joint intelligence cooperation, and put pressure on Pakistan’s Generals to act against the terror groups that they themselves created.

India and the U.S. are natural partners in Asia, and the relationship certainly has the potential to become one of the defining ones of the 21st Century. I don’t know whether India will be able to join a U.S.-led Asia-Pacific NATO, something that I’ve been advocating for a while. In fact, India has begun its own security dialog with such U.S. allies as Japan and South Korea, making it a possible lynch-pin in a regional security partnership (but its absence is not a reason not to go forward). As the focus of world economic activity and military rivalry moves to the Western Pacific-Indian Ocean region, India will become increasingly central to America’s global security interests. It behooves us, therefore, to afford this relationship the importance it deserves, and not just engage in symbolism.

(This post originally appeared in